According to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, energy drinks are consumed by 30% to 50% of adolescents and young adults. And while Gatorade and Red Bull might be sitting next to each other on the grocery store shelf the two are not interchangeable! While sports drinks contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes, and other vitamins designed to help athletes combat dehydration, energy drinks leave out the electrolytes and add stimulants like caffeine, protein, and amino acids to give people that “boost” of energy.
The FDA limits the amount caffeine in soda to 71 mg of caffeine per 12-ounce drink, but the organization does not regulate the amount of caffeine in energy drinks. Some energy drinks contain more than 100 mg of caffeine in 12 ounces. And since many energy drinks come in 16- and 24-ounce cans, you’re getting more than twice the caffeine limit for soda in one big can of Monster. Did you know that it’s actually possible to overdose on caffeine? According to the National Council on Strength and Fitness, “Researchers identified that of the 5,448 caffeine overdoses reported in the U.S. in 2007, 46% occurred in individuals under 19 years of age.” In December 2011, fourteen-year-old Anais Fournier died after drinking two Monster energy drinks in 48 hours. An autopsy revealed the cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia from caffeine overdose.
When it comes to sports, Dr. Kim Kato, licensed athletic trainer and professor of health and exercise science at MidAmerica Nazarene University, argues that large amounts of caffeine actually decrease coordination and reaction time. Too much caffeine in youth athletes can cause jitteriness, nervousness, dizziness, an inability to focus, difficulty concentrating and more—the exact opposite of what an athlete needs to perform well on the field.
And because caffeine is a diuretic energy drinks can actually contribute to dehydration. Even just a 1-2% loss of body mass due to dehydration can have a significant impact on the athlete performance of young players. Plenty of kids come to practice a little dehydrated already so let’s not give them an energy drink that makes it worse!
Most of the time youth athletes aren’t working out hard enough to really need sports drinks in order to properly hydrate and refuel themselves; water works just fine. But as players get older and start playing for several hours at a time (gotta love those triple headers!) sports drinks do become viable beverage options. Energy drinks, however, are practically never a good idea for youth athletes. The caffeine may give them an artificial energy boost on the field but it can actually decrease their performance and let’s not forget about the crash that’s bound to come with the sugars and caffeine wear off! When your athlete is facing a triple header you need to make sure they have a consistent energy level throughout the day, and that kind of energy needs to come from the right kinds of real foods, not an energy drink.